Despite many unanswered questions about homosexuality, several points do seem reasonably clear. It seems to me that the official documents of the General Conference Mennonite Church (Saskatoon 1986) and of the Mennonite Church (Purdue 1987) agree explicitly or implicitly about the following points:
2. There is an important difference between homosexuality as an orientation and homosexuality as a lifestyle. Homosexuality as an orientation is not and cannot be wrong -- it just is; at issue is whether gays and lesbians should be celibate or may express their sexuality within a loving, committed relationship;
3. Gays and lesbians deserve as much love and respect as do heterosexuals, and that means listening and loving before passing judgment; gay-bashing in word or deed is clearly wrong for anyone who wishes to identify with Jesus;
4. Christians should seriously consider the ethical propriety of homosexual marriages so that they can know how to be redemptive;
5. Christian ethics is for Christians: ethical discernment and discipling (based on biblical principles) are appropriate primarily among people who claim to follow Jesus;
6. Such ethical discernment properly belongs with the Christian community as a whole, not the Christian individual by himself or herself;
7. Straight Christians should welcome the help of both (a) gay and lesbian Christians; and (b) social scientists in addressing this issue.
The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed down with his face to the ground. 2He said, "Please, my lords, turn aside to your servant's house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you can rise early and go on your way." They said, "No; we will spend the night in the square." 3But he urged them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. 4But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; 5and they called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them." 6Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, 7and said, "I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. 8Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof." 9But they replied, "Stand back!" And they said, "This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them." Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and came near the door to break it down. 10But the men inside reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. 11And they struck with blindness the men who were at the door of the house, both small and great, so that they were unable to find the door.
|This passage is often used as an example
of how God condemns homosexuality.
In later biblical tradition, Sodom and Gomorra were widely recognized symbols of immorality and of the judgment of God that falls on such immorality.
Sodom and Gomorra are symbols of God's terrifying judgment in Deut. 29:23; Isa. 1:9-10; 13:19; Jer. 49:18; 50:40; Ezek. 16:53-58; Amos 4:11; Zeph. 2:9; Matt. 10:15; Luke 17:29; Rom. 9:29; 2 Pet. 2:6; Jude 7 ... symbols of shameless immorality or unbridled sin in general in Isa. 3:9; Lam. 4:6; Ezek; 16:48; Jude 7 ... and symbols of foolish impotent rebellion (or unresponsiveness) against God, see Deut. 32:32; Jer. 23:14; Matt. 11:23-24; Luke 10:12; Rev. 11:8.
The word sodomite has become, in the English language, a synonym for one who engages in certain kinds of (male) homosexual acts. For instance, the New American Standard Bible uses sodomites in 1 Kings 22:46 to refer to male cult prostitutes.
|That the inhabitants of Sodom displayed the
most despicable form of sexual immorality, no one denies. But this passage
has nothing to do with loving, committed, monogamous homosexual relationships.
The sin displayed in this story is the sin of homosexual (gang) rape, possessive
lust, and sexual abuse.
That homosexuality itself is not the focus of these cities' later notoriety within the biblical tradition is aptly demonstrated in Ezekiel 16:49: "This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy." And in v. 51, Ezekiel says that in comparison with sinful Judah, Sodom and Gomorra were righteous.
Furthermore, some Jewish writings indicate that the sinful desire behind the Sodomites' lust for Lot's guests was because they were angels, not because they were men (see Testament of Naphtali 3:4-5).
This story reflects the sacred value placed in Arab culture on hospitality. It is a responsibility so sacred that Lot would rather offer his virgin daughters to his ravenous neighbors than the strangers he feels obligated to protect.
That sodomite has become synonymous with certain homosexual acts does not pertain to the ethical issue of the propriety of loving, committed homosexual relationships. "Sodomites" are condemned in several Old Testament texts not because the male prostitutes were having sex with other males, but because they were serving alien gods as part of the Canaanite fertility cult.
19You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness while she is in her menstrual uncleanness. 20You shall not have sexual relations with your kinsman's wife, and defile yourself with her. 21You shall not give any of your offspring to sacrifice them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD. 22You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. 23You shall not have sexual relations with any animal and defile yourself with it, nor shall any woman give herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it: it is perversion.
|This passage says that homosexual intercourse is an abomination and a perversion -- a perversion as bad as bestiality, as bad as having sex with a woman while she's having her period, as bad as child sacrifice, and as bad as adultery.||Loving, committed relationships are not
in view here. The author is addressing the sin of having sex for its own
sake (i.e., using another person, or animal, to meet one's own selfish
The context also makes clear that these are purity regulations designed to keep holy Israel separate from unholy Canaan. In light of Jesus' rejection of purity codes and their effect of separating people groups, the Christian church no longer takes purity codes literally.
10If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death. 11The man who lies with his father's wife has uncovered his father's nakedness; both of them shall be put to death; their blood is upon them. 12If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall be put to death; they have committed perversion, their blood is upon them. 13If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them. 14If a man takes a wife and her mother also, it is depravity; they shall be burned to death, both he and they, that there may be no depravity among you. 15If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he shall be put to death; and you shall kill the animal. 16If a woman approaches any animal and has sexual relations with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them.
|Lev. 20:13 says that homosexual intercourse is an abomination worthy of the death penalty for both partners. Such a thing is as bad as adultery, or having sex with one's stepmother, or having sex with one's daughter-in-law, or being married to a woman and that woman's mother at the same time [other, more "natural" forms of bigamy or polygamy are okay], or having sex with an animal.||The same considerations apply here as those
above. A literal interpretation of this passage would require the death
penalty for homosexual intercourse! Does the church wish seriously to propose
this? On what basis do we answer this?
Within the Hebrew Bible itself we see a debate about purity issues in sexual or biological terms. Deut. 23:1-3 says, "No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD.
Those born of an illicit union shall not be admitted.... Even to the tenth generation, none of their descendants shall be admitted.... No Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted.... Even to the tenth generation, none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD." However, see also Ruth 4:17 and Isa. 56:4-5 for differing perspectives.
16Then at evening there was an old man coming from his work in the field. The man was from the hill country of Ephraim, and he was residing in Gibeah. (The people of the place were Benjaminites.) 17When the old man looked up and saw the wayfarer in the open square of the city, he said, "Where are you going and where do you come from?" 18He answered him, "We are passing from Bethlehem in Judah to the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, from which I come. I went to Bethlehem in Judah; and I am going to my home. Nobody has offered to take me in. 19We your servants have straw and fodder for our donkeys, with bread and wine for me and the woman and the young man along with us. We need nothing more." 20The old man said, "Peace be to you. I will care for all your wants; only do not spend the night in the square." 21So he brought him into his house, and fed the donkeys; they washed their feet, and ate and drank.
22While they were enjoying themselves, the men of the city, a perverse lot, surrounded the house, and started pounding on the door. They said to the old man, the master of the house, "Bring out the man who came into your house, so that we may have intercourse with him." 23And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, "No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Since this man is my guest, do not do this vile thing. 24Here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do whatever you want to them; but against this man do not do such a vile thing." 25But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine, and put her out to them. They wantonly raped her, and abused her all through the night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. 26As morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man's house where her master was, until it was light.
|As with the story of Sodom and Gomorra above, the "perverse" men of Gibeah are portrayed as desiring homosexual intercourse, apparently equating homosexuality with perverseness.||As with the story of Sodom and Gomorra above,
this story has nothing to do with the propriety of loving, committed monogamous
homosexual or lesbian relationships, but rather with the perversity of
gang rape, wanton lust, and (even worse, in that society), the sin of inhospitality.
As in the story of Sodom and Gomorra, the old man's willingness to offer to his neighbors his own virgin daughter as well as his guest's concubine (sex slave) is portrayed as a noble thing to do -- a self-sacrificial recognition of the sacredness of hospitality to the stranger. In other words, the story underlines the heroic maintenance of the cultural tradition of hospitality as a sacred trust.
This is a horrible and terrifying story -- horrible for its cavalier acceptance of the violence toward women that such a patriarchal society could produce. Biblical interpreters today have an obligation to stress that the moral lesson intended by this passage is not that patriarchal violence is legitimate, but that hospitality toward the stranger is a sacred trust.
Thus, a proper appropriation of this terrifying and terrible story may be that believers in Yahweh have an obligation to take in and protect dishonored strangers. In our society, that would include any oppressed majority, such as women, or any persecuted minority, whether blacks or Asians or Hispanics or gays and lesbians themselves -- or perhaps persons with AIDS.
||David's relationship with Jonathan was clearly a very
special and close relationship. Although 2 Samuel 1:26 compares the love
David had for Jonathan with the love between a man and a woman, nothing
is said explicitly about whether this love was sexual--or, more exactly,
whether they expressed their love in sexually explicit ways.
It may be that we see evidence here of a different social ordering of relationships in Hebrew society than we we know today. How many straight men today would be willing to use this sort of "love-explicit" language toward one another?
|David's relationship with Jonathan was clearly a very special and close relationship. 2 Samuel 1:26 explicitly compares the love David had for Jonathan with the love between a man and a woman. Although nothing is said about whether this love was expressed in sexually explicit ways, it is clear that there was an intimacy and an emotional investment between the two that went beyond friendship--even a close friendship. As the Human Sexuality in the Christian Life study guide makes clear, we are sexual beings. Thus, this relationship probably had sexual overtones even if David and Jonathan did not engage in certain kinds of sexual activity with each other. Nevertheless, "sexual activity" is not important here; what is important is that David and Jonathan had a deeply satisfying and intimate love for each other that is explicitly compared to the love experienced between a man and a woman. At no point does the text imply that this love was improper or that God disapproved of it.|
|[Jesus said nothing about gays, lesbians, or homosexuality as such.]||It is difficult to interpret the significance of Jesus' silence on the matter. It is possible that Jesus simply accepted the conventional wisdom of his day and therefore disapproved of homosexual relationships. In Jewish tradition, homosexuality apparently was not tolerated.||It is difficult to interpret the significance of Jesus' silence on the matter. It is possible that Jesus (1) implicitly approved of homosexual relationships, but later church tradition did not know this or suppressed that memory; or (2) did not consider the issue as important as some other issues, such as the role of money in people's lives.|
3Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?" 4He answered, "Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning `made them male and female,' 5and said, `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? 6So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." 7They said to him, "Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?" 8He said to them, "It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery."
10His disciples said to him, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry." 11But he said to them, "Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. 12For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can."
[Loren's paraphrase of v. 12: "Some people have no choice about expressing their sexuality genitally; for some that choice has been taken away by other people; and still others have chosen to refrain from such 'fulfillment' for the sake of God's reign."]
|In Jesus' teaching about marriage and divorce,
he emphasizes the permanence of the marriage covenant. His disciples' reaction
show that Jesus' approach requires the kind of commitment that empowered
women in that society to such an extent that men may have second thoughts
about getting married at all.
Thus, what Jesus may be saying here is that our sexual identity is never fully determinative of "who we are." Whether we be straight or gay, we can be quite healthy spiritually and emotionally without sexual self-expression of the genital variety. Jesus may thus be calling for celibacy as an honorable (perhaps the honorable?) option for both heterosexuals and homosexuals.
Roman Catholics emphasize that the main purpose of sexual intercourse within marriage is procreation. Consistent with this emphasis is the condemnation of birth control and the disapproval of homosexual intercourse, since procreation is not an option.
|Jesus' quotation of the "one flesh" statement
from Genesis shows that the significance of marriage in God's plan has
more to do with love and the lasting nature of the marriage covenant itself
than it does with sexual fulfillment or the "natural" biological "fit"
of heterosexual intercourse.
Because Jesus emphasizes that "not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given" (stated twice, in vv. 11 and v. 12d), he may be saying that sexual self-expression is a deeply personal and spiritual issue and that although God's will may be that gays, lesbians, and heterosexuals ideally remain celibate, the church should freely accept those who cannot themselves accept that sort of "imposed" celibacy.
Protestants emphasize that the main purpose of sexual intercourse within marriage is the expression of mutual love, regardless of procreation. Consistent with this emphasis is the use of birth control and the approval of homosexual intercourse (within marriage) as an expression of love untied to procreation.
9About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13Then he heard a voice saying, "Get up, Peter; kill and eat." 14But Peter said, "By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean." 15The voice said to him again, a second time, "What God has made clean, you must not call profane." 16This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.
17Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon's house and were standing by the gate. 18They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. 19While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Look, three men are searching for you. 20Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them."
|This passage about the opening of the Gentile mission has nothing to do with purity regarding sexual issues. That is, while it does seem designed to pull down certain kinds of barriers between people groups based on purity issues, it does not necessarily imply that sexual concerns specifically qualify as a "purity" issue that can now be safely ignored. In fact, there is plenty of evidence from elsewhere in the New Testament that responsible choices are still necessary in the area of our sexuality despite the freedom we have in Christ (cf. Matt. 15:19; Acts 15:20,29; 21:25; 1 Cor. 5; 6:18; 7:2; 10:8; 12:21; Gal. 5:19; Col. 3:5; 1 Thess. 4:3; Jude 7).||This passage is about the barriers that divide
people based on "purity" issues. Jesus himself was severely condemned by
his contemporaries for not abiding by the societal protocols that were
based on purity issues (Luke 7:31-50; Mark 7:1-23). Furthermore, Jesus
seemed particularly sensitive to the ways in which people concerned about
sexual purity often build unjust barriers between people in a subtly idolatrous
attempt to justify themselves. Such a temptation to point the finger at
the "other" usually does not reflect God's love (cf. John 7:53-8:11). Jesus
is just as concerned about this kind of hard-heartedness as he is about
the sexual activity in question.
In this case, God is asking Peter to reconsider something that Peter had deeply believed for all of his life: that purity was central to God's concern and that for him to be accepted by God, he must avoid contact with Gentiles. This was not an easy lesson for Peter to learn, but God was patient with him.
18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. 19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.
24Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
28And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. 29They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, 31foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32They know God's decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die -- yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.
|Here Paul seems to equate homosexuality with
ungodliness, wickedness, and idolatry. This wickedness expresses itself
in a perverse confusion between creation (us) and creator (God).
The fact that Paul addresses only an abusive or hierarchical form of homosexual love (pederasty) may be due to a conviction that homosexuality itself is inherently exploitative (i.e., that it requires an aggressor and a more effeminate partner). That is, Paul's silence about the loving, committed monogamous relationship may reflect not ignorance about such homosexuality, but a denial that such homosexuality exists or can exist.
Furthermore, the fact that the term homosexuality as such does not appear in the New Testament says nothing about its ethical propriety. There simply was no term available in Greek that referred to homosexuality specifically as a loving, committed relationship between equals. Thus, one cannot make much of the absence of such a term.
|Paul's main concern here is the proper relationship
between Creator and creature. The use and abuse of sexuality is one of
the symptoms of such a confusion. Although it may appear to the heterosexual
world that homosexual sex is the prime example of depravity, both homosexual
heterosexual sex can reflect such a confusion.
According to V. P. Furnish in The Moral Teaching of Paul, neither the concept of homosexuality nor the term homosexuality was known to Paul. What Paul condemns here is "pederasty," the (homosexual) domination of one person over another -- specifically, that of an older man over a younger boy. This may be why Paul associates such "homosexuality" with insatiable lust and immorality, not because he is making a statement about the abusive or exploitative nature of homosexuality as such.
Paul assumes here that homosexual behavior is something freely chosen, a purposeful violation of the created order. He either (1) is unaware of the distinction between homosexuality as an orientation and as a behavior; or (2) has nothing to say about homosexuality as an orientation (the former is more likely).
In context, Paul is not condemning the Romans for tolerating homosexuals in their midst, but rather using a typical Jewish stereotype about Gentile sexual promiscuity to make his central point: that all -- Jew and Gentile alike -- are in desperate need of God.
Furthermore, Paul treats homosexual intercourse not as one of the "sins" of the Gentiles, but one of the consequences of their root sin: refusing to let the one true God be their God (Furnish, p. 77).
Paul apparently knew nothing about the complexity of homosexuality and the multiple causes of it and nowhere does Paul show awareness of a loving mutual homosexual relationship that is not exploitative or abusive. We should therefore refrain from imposing Paul's statements about homosexuality directly on our situation today without taking this into account. Nevertheless, Paul's fundamental concerns about homosexuality are as valid today as ever: whenever homo- or hetero- sexuality expresses itself as (a) a surrender to one's own lusts; (b) an ungrateful misappropriation of God's creation; or (c) exploitation of another person-such sexual activity is morally wrong.
9Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers-none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. 11And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
|There is some evidence that some loving homosexual
relationships begin with or eventually evolve into one in which one partner
is more the aggressor and the other more passive. Thus, Paul's terms do
not necessarily assume an inherently unloving or unequal partnership.
"This is what some of you used to be" could imply that some of the Corinthians had been, but were no longer, gay or lesbian.
|The two Greek words translated "male prostitutes"
and "sodomites" in v. 9 of the NRSV are malakoi and arsenokoitai.
means "effeminate" or "weak" and is the word used of "call-boys" whom older
men (arsenokoitai) take to bed. (The latter term is also the one
used in 1 Tim. 1:10, which appears in another list of vices.)
The context here in 1 Cor. is one of heterosexual immorality; homosexuality as such is not the topic at hand. Paul simply mentions the sort of abusive, exploitative homosexuality that goes on between young "call-boys" and their customers as one example of the sort of immorality Christians in Corinth should avoid.
"This is what some of you used to be" implies only that some of the Corinthians were guilty of some of the vices Paul mentioned. Not much more can be made of this -- especially in light of increasing evidence that homosexuality is not a pathological psychological "condition" that can or should be "cured."
|[In summary, the Bible says nothing explicitly positive about homosexuality, and what it does say is almost exclusively negative or critical.]||Since everything the Bible says explicitly about homosexuality is negative, we should "play it safe" and go with what is explicit rather than take the "gray areas" too seriously.||The Bible says nothing explicitly about slavery, either. We rightly condemn slavery today because we see that the biblical teachings about justice, love, and human dignity provide a trajectory consistent with the condemnation of slavery. In a similar way, the trajectories of biblical teaching suggest that we should accept gays and lesbians as equal partners in the church. "Playing it safe" is what the conservative slave owners wanted to do.|
Several important questions derive from the above biblical evidence:
2. Paul seems to treat homosexuality in a distant, stereotypical fashion. How significant is it that he nowhere addressed an actual situation of homosexuality in his churches?
3. How significant is it that Paul shows no awareness of the complexity of homosexuality (or bisexuality) as we know it today? Was he aware that a person could "be" gay or lesbian without ever having engaged in gay or lesbian sexual acts? And
4. To what extent is the reluctance to embrace homosexuality -- whether in biblical times or today -- based on artificial boundaries created and maintained by the kind of purity system Jesus condemned? That is, is sexual orientation as such a purity issue? Is sexual activity as such a purity issue?